Our king is growing old, like the pale yellow flower that used to grow on my bedroom windowsill. I pay close attention to our king. I can do that because he is also my father.
Choosing Day is less than a month away, the sacred day when our king will choose which of his children will take the throne once he has passed away. My father is named Benjamin. My name is Andrea and I was born two minutes after my brother Serious and three minutes before my sister Sae. We are triplets.
Tonight will be the Feast of June. Every month we have a big feast, just us four. We only get to have that on these special days. We catch up on our lives. We barely get to see each other during normal days. We do have to run a palace after all. Our kingdom is obsessing over which one of us triplets will be chosen to wear the crown at the coronation celebration.
Our red-carpeted stairwells are wide, with solid gold banisters and steps. That evening I rush to get to the Feast of June in time. I run from my bedroom to the stairs while pinning my long brown hair back on the side of my head. I reach the the stairwell and stop to make sure that the pin is secure in my hair. I’ve never really walked down the stairs— I usually slide down the long gold banister. It is easier (and way more fun). Without a moment’s hesitation, I jump up onto the railing and slide quickly down. I can see Sae sliding down the banister ahead of me, her black braids flying out behind her.
“Beat you!” a shout from below calls. I recognize it as my brother Serious’s voice. He wants to win everything.
“I’ll get you next time,” says Sae. They must have been racing each other. They do that often.
Finally I reach the bottom and I jump off the railing to an extraordinary sight. The table has the greatest amount of food that it has ever had. My favorite part is the huge chocolate fountain in the middle of the table. The table has a green silk tablecloth that magically cleans up any mess that is dropped or spilled on it. I sit in my place next to Serious and across from father.
“We have much to discuss, my children,” says father, his eyes never leaving his plate. He is a very tall man with a long beard and a silky purple robe.
“We always do,” says Serious.
“This is more important than usual,” says father. “As you know, I am growing old and I must decide which one of you is to take the throne when I am gone.”
He sucks in his breath at this moment, like he is afraid of what will become of the palace once he is gone.
“So…” says Sae eager to find out what Father will say next. I glare at her.
Father glares at her as well.
“So,” he says. “I have arranged a competition over who will get the throne. You will each get one apprentice of your choice to help you find the most valuable thing in the world.”
“So,” Father continues. “By tomorrow you must choose your apprentice. You will leave at noon and must be back on July 8th, the day before Choosing Day. If you do not return by then we will assume that you are…dead.” Father pauses and laces his fingers together. He looks down. We all do.
Finally, he says, “Does anyone have any questions?”
“What if we want to do it alone?,” asks Serious.
“That would be fine,” says father. “But you might want some help.”
“What if we can’t find the most valuable thing in the world?” Sae asks.
“Remember it doesn’t have to be a thing,” says father.
Serious rubs his black goatee. We eat the rest of our dinner in silence. When it is time for the chocolate fountain, I grab a strawberry in each hand and dip it inside the fountain. Chocolate covers my hands. I rush upstairs. Sae follows me upstairs. When I reach the fourth floor, I go to my bedroom. My bedroom has light green walls and a bed with a purple lace canopy. I lie down on my bed and eat my strawberries, then lick my fingers. My flowy white dress feels uncomfortable but, I am too tired to change clothes. I have too much to think about. Who will I choose to be my apprentice? What the heck is the most valuable thing in the world?
I don’t know.
My servant and friend Serenity comes into my room with two glasses of orange juice. She takes one and hands it to me. Then she sits down next to me.
“I was exploring the sewing room. There was a roll of fabric that had hundreds of pictures of you on it. Isn’t that cool!” Serenity finishes off her orange juice and then looks at me closely.
“Hey, are you alright?” Serenity asks.
I can’t hear her words. Exploration, fabric, faces, me? Then I sit up straight in bed knocking over my full glass of juice.
“Serenity, how would you like to go on an adventure?” I ask with confidence, hoping secretly that she will agree.
“An adventure, what kind?” Serenity peers at me from behind a lock of curly blond hair.
“You’ll find out,” I grumble, suddenly angry at father.
Father puts my life in danger and then he puts my best friend’s life in danger, along with my brother’s and sister’s lives, and he doesn’t care. I hope my face isn’t getting red because that would be embarrassing but I feel that way. Anger is boiling inside me like the boiling tomato mushroom bisque my beautiful Mother used to make before she left me and Sae and Serious when we had just turned five. I cry because I want the competition to end and I cry for my mother who would never ever put me in danger like this. Father is just greedy— that’s why he wants us to risk our lives to find him the most valuable thing in the world. There is only one problem— I want the crown. Serenity watches me carefully.
I hop out of bed and motion for her to follow me. I grab my bow and high five knives and Serenity’s dagger. Then I grab my magical cornucopia and throw it all into a neon blue duffel bag, along with some clothes and two winter coats. Finally, I grab a map of the world and hand the duffel bag to Serenity. We walk out of my room. I know that I have to leave to go on the journey now. Literally now, because I can’t stand to be in the same house as Father any longer.
“We are going to get an early start on the journey,” I say. I scribble a note on some old stationary that Father gave me years ago.
I am leaving early for the journey. Serenity is coming.
Don’t worry about me,
P.S. I am taking two horses.
I am scared. I can’t hide how I feel as Serenity and I walk through the dark, empty halls. I scan the halls, hoping that no one will find us. In the Apothecary I grab a bag full of healing medicine and two blankets. One is thin, made from wool and the other is thick with cotton. They are both brown. Good camouflage colors. Finally, I reach the stables. Beyond the stables are the woods. That is where I must start this hazardous journey. Woods surround all of the castle so I have no other place to start. I coax Ginger, the horse, out of her stall. She climbs out without fighting and I motion for Serenity to climb on. I hand her the duffle bag. Then, I coax another horse, Chip, out of his stall and I climb on. On our way out I get two hay stuffed pillows from the corner and a bag of horse feed. I follow Serenity into the forest. Her horse, Ginger, is the color of the ripe peaches that Mother used to plant in our orchard. Now that Mother has left us there are no more peaches in our orchard, only the dry, hard apples that I always forget to pick. I stop to pick a bag of them to feed to the horses. Then my black and white horse carries me away.
While we are riding, I explain the whole idea to Serenity and thank her for not asking questions while I was packing up. I slowly start to get tired and I find a nice clearing that Serenity and I can spend the night in. We set up the sleeping bags and pillows and tie both horses to a big brown oak. I feed the horses an apple each and then fall asleep.
I wake up to the sound of birds chirping. Serenity is already awake. I see that she untied the horses. I reach into the duffel bag and pull out the cornucopia. I raise it into the air and it barfs out four pieces of bacon and two waffles and a spray can of ReddiWhip. I pull out two plates and put the food on them. The food tastes really good.
Soon after we eat, I get on Chip’s back and tie the duffel bag around his neck. Serenity climbs on Ginger and we set off.
We follow a narrow path that goes into the woods deeper and deeper. I don’t know what I am searching for. I don’t know if I will find anything.
“Any ideas?” I asked Serenity.
“Not really,” she says.
All of a sudden, we hear a crack, and a trio of monsters comes running out of the woods. I recognize them as Grougs. Serious hunts them in the woods all the time. They all have green skin and silver clubs with spikes, their orange hair braided with weapons.
Serenity screams. We jump off our horses and draw our weapons. Serenity’s is a faded grey dagger with the symbol of our land on it. Mine is my bow and arrow. I step forward to stab the first Groug in the stomach while Serenity takes on the second one. I lunge at the Groug. It throws a handful of copper knifes my way. I cry out and back away. One of the knives brushes against my fingers. A burning sensation starts in my fingers and runs throughout my whole body. I have never told anyone this but, I have a terrible weakness. Any time copper touches my skin it burns my blood. I almost fall back but, stand my ground. I set my bow with a death arrow and shoot it into the Grougs stomach just as I fall back onto the dirt floor. The last thing I hear is Serenity’s wail before I pass out.
I immediately start to have a vision. I am sitting at my place in the dining hall at the castle. My father and brother and sister are there, too.
“I’m trusting you with the last of my transportation coins,” he says. Father has never mentioned those before. He hands each of us two faded gold coins. I take mine and roll them around in my hands.
“When you need them most, you can transport yourself or someone else to the castle or somewhere else as long as you think of the place in your head,” says father. I can barely think about that when the dream fades and I wake to find myself laying in the dirt. The transportation coins are in my hand but I don’t care much about them because Serenity is next to me and blood is pouring out of her. She is about to die.
I know that I have to act quickly. I grab a bandage from the apothecary bag and slide it over the tremendous hole that has appeared in her stomach. I wrap it around several times and hold it against her stomach. I check her pulse; fading but still there.
“Serenity,” I breathe softly. She can’t hear me. I look around. The Grougs took everything except for Chip the Horse and the apothecary bag. And to make it even worse a slow rain has started.
We have to find shelter. Someone must live around here. I slowly lift Serenity up and slide her onto the back of a horse. Only then do I remember the transportation coins. Where are they? I search the grounds and find them hidden by a large orange leaf. I take the coins and the leaf and sit on a large rock. I must write a note to father. I take the cool black sap from a large tree and draw with my fingers a note to Father on the orange leaf. The writing is shaky but, readable.
Take care of Serenity. I am okay.
See you soon,
Then I slip one of the transportation coins into her palm and she fades away into the shadows.
Without looking back, I climb on Chip and ride deeper into the forest and away from where I hope Serenity will end up. Then I think of food. How am I going to eat without the magical cornucopia? The only other person who has one in the world is my mother but, I know I’ll never see her again. I tug on Chip’s saddle, forcing him to move forward farther into the woods. I stepped hard on a piece of wood and it made a loud snapping sound. I know that I might have alerted any nearby wildlife but, I don’t care. I suddenly feel so alone in this world. I thought Serenity was just slowing me down but I didn’t realize how much I actually needed her to help me with this quest. I wonder what day it is because I want to know how many days I have left. I feel the circular transportation coin in my jean pocket as I walk along the forest path. I wonder if I will ever make it home to the castle. I just have hope that the transportation coins actually work because I would feel even worse if I had done my friend wrong as well as myself.
Chip neighs loudly and stops abruptly. Then, I see why. We have come to a perfect square clearing. There are no trees. Just a perfect little cottage with a stone path and ripe peach trees surrounding it except for the path. Then I see her. A beautiful young-ish woman with a flowing golden braid and a white dress that sparkles in the afternoon sun. She has a basket around one of her arms and is picking yellow peaches off branches in her orchard. When she sees me she disappears into her house and slams the door. There is something about this woman that seems familiar and I know immediately that she is someone that I know.
“Ma’am!” I call out. “Hello, ma’am!”
I tie Chip to one of the largest peach trees and walk up to the door. I knock gently, crossing my fingers. Maybe this woman can help me and get me food. Maybe she could… My thoughts are suddenly interrupted. The same lady swings open the door and starts shouting at me until a girl’s soft voice stops her.
“It’s okay, Mother,” the girl’s voice says behind the woman. “This one is a friend.”
I do not know how to react to this until the woman with the golden hair suddenly grabs me hardly and pulls me into a tight long hug. When she finally looks up her eyes are streaked with tears and her smile is bigger than ever. I finally realize who it is. I can’t believe it. Just when I thought I would never find her, I know who this person is.
“Andrea?” my mother asks. “Is that you?”
I can barely choke out an answer. Then my mother invites me inside and I see who the girl is. Black braids and all with her brown oak bow slung across her back.
“Thank you Sae,” I tell her as I move about the kitchen.
“It’s my pleasure,” Sae says as she follows me into the kitchen. A flat circle of dough lays underneath a pink faded rolling pin on the dining table. The kitchen is very neat with blue and yellow wallpaper, striped.
“But I have news to tell you sister… it is just us now,” Sae says.
“Father?” I ask, feeling lightheaded all of a sudden.
“No, Serious. He cursed at a hawk so the hawk stabbed him through the neck.”
I put my head down and shed a few tears, then I remember that now we have less competition. I tell this to Sae.
“I have been thinking of that as well. I think we should take our Mother back as the prize and rule as siblings in cohorts.”
“That could be a good idea— Father won’t object as long as we are safe.”
Mother comes into the kitchen.
“So, it’s settled,” Sae says. “ Mother, we are bringing you back to the castle.”
Mother sucks in her breath. “I don’t know if I would like to go back to the castle. I might want to stay here in the peace and quiet. Of course, I would love some company so, if you want to stay with…” Sae cuts Mother off.
“Sorry,” she says. “Andrea and I have to do our duty at the castle so, you either come with us willingly or we shove you into a cloth sack and drag you.”
We all stare at Mother. I know Sae was kidding. We would never do that.
“How will we even get to the castle?” Mother asks, doubting us.
Sae says, “No idea” the same time I say “Transportation coins.”
“What the heck are transportation coins?” ask Sae and Mother at the same time.
I feel light-headed again. “Sae, you didn’t get them?”
“No I did, just joking,” she answers. At least now we have a way to get home. Sae and I go back to staring at Mother expectantly.
“I will have my answer by morning,” says Mother. “You can spend the night.”
“I lost track of time, so what day is it?” I ask. “Do we have enough time?”
“Yeah, today is July 6th.”
Sae gives me a tour of Mother’s house while Mother speaks gently to the cornucopia that she will need extra food because she has guests.
There is one bedroom, a cozy living room, the kitchen, and a small basement. Behind the house there is a large lake that I never noticed.
“I’ll show you my mad rowing skills after dinner,” says Sae.
I can hear the cornucopia in the distance. It is spitting out food for dinner.
“Great,” I say to Sae. “But, think about it. What if Mother doesn’t want to come with us?”
“She will.” That is Sae’s only answer. I still have doubts.
Before I know it, Mother is calling us for dinner. It is delicious— duck with peas and carrots. I try to bring up conversation but we’ve all had a tiring day so it doesn’t work.
“Make sure you have a decision by morning,” says Sae as Mother ushers us out of the living room and into the basement where there are sleeping bags set up, “Because Andrea and I—” she smiles at me her biggest smile, which is very unlike her. Suspicious even. “—have to go back to the castle!” Sae smiles again and goes to the basement.
Now I am scared because I have a feeling that I know what Sae is going to do to me. These will be her steps to ruling the kingdom:
- Leave in the middle of the night for the castle without me or our mother.
- Once she gets to the castle she will pretend that I am dead so that she can take the crown.
- Then she will kill Father so he can’t change anything when I come back to the castle with mother.
- She will rule forever and break into our life lasting potions so that she can live forever.
That would be very bad because we are only supposed to take a teaspoon of life lasting potion every five years so we don’t go crazy. The last dose I had was when we were fifteen. If we do not get killed we should live to about 690 right now. Who knows how long when we take another dose at 20.
I swallow hard. Then I stop freaking out. This is Sae I’m talking about! The same Sae that stood guard while I stole Reddi Whip from the castle kitchen. The same Sae that spent hours with me in the huge tree house that father’s handyman built for us so we could play games. The same Sae who always wins when we have “who can slide down the rails the fastest” challenges. I fight back a tear. The same Sae who was my loving sister before Father broke us apart in this terrible battle for the crown.
I realize that I am still standing in the middle of the hallway and quickly and quietly go down the stairs to the basement. I see that Sae is getting settled in her sleeping bag. I crawl into mine next to her. I would like to stay up and ask Sae about her plan but my tired eyes fail me. I am asleep in seconds.
I jump immediately when I hear a rustle in the sleeping bag next to mine. My eyes open and Sae is not there. I run through the fields near mother’s house around to the lake and back up the valley. The cold night air stings my arms and legs but, I can’t stop. I have gone about a half mile before I collapse onto the grass, panting hard. I try to get back up. I need to do this for Sae. I grasp strands of grass and push myself forward.
“Sae,” I whisper into the cold night air. “Sae.” I scream it this time. I am sure that I have gone insane.
“SAE!” I screech. Then I am running. I am running to the castle to find my sister and bring her back and—
I stop myself. Then I reach into my pocket and get a transportation coin. Now I have a plan. I will transport myself to the cottage to get Mother then I will transport both of us to the castle to get Sae. That is of course, if Mother agrees to going to the castle.
I hold out the transportation coin and think “Mother’s cottage” in my mind. Then before I know it I am gone.
I arrive back at the house. I am about to rush into the house when I hear a loud splash coming from the lake behind the house. I went around back.
And I had to start crying because there was Sae. There was Sae in her dark blue pajamas swimming in the lake. She smiles and I dive in to join her. I splash her and she splashes me back and I tell her how worried I was and for once she listens. You know those moments that you wish could last forever? Yeah, this was one of those. As I swam around in the lake with Sae I forgot about everything that really mattered and just swam and laughed. Sae was my sister and I thought that she had taken the dark side.
“I love you, Sae,” I say.
“I love you too, Andrea,” says Sae.
As we hug, a sharp arrow skims the side of my ear and I jump to attention. I regret the decision I make to look where the arrow came from.
There is Father up atop the hill with all of 50,00 troop lined for battle.
“Where is Serious?” Father looks concerned.
“He’s dead,” I explain to him.
“What!?” Father looks astounded. “You know he was my favorite! He had to rule!”
Fathers words sting me as they hit my ear. Then Father raises his bow.
“You killed him.” Father accuses us. I am surprised that he is crying. “You killed him!”
“Father, no,” Sae can barely correct.
There is no mercy in Father’s eyes as he yells to the 50,000 troops, “CHARGE!”
I can barely think or speak or anything when Sae is pulling me out of the lake to the dock. Then we ran away from the lake and the forest until Sae mutters one single word.
Then we run back to the cabin because we must save Mother. I close my eyes and power through the strong July wind. I am only about 30 feet from the cabin when I realize that the cabin is on fire. The beautiful peach trees go up in flames and all of Mother’s things are being thrown into the lake while a handcuffed Mother is being pushed onto the front lawn. Mother looks very calm. Sae and I are hiding behind the last peach tree. I grasp Sae’s hand.
“Aaliyah,” says Father. “It’s nice to see you.”
“Benjamin,” Mother says, copying father’s calm tone. “I am glad that you could make the trip.”
“I am so terribly sorry, Aaliyah,” says Father. “But, I am going to have to kill you, because you assisted my daughters after they killed my favorite child.”
I gasp loudly and Sae covers my mouth with her hand.
“If that is what’s best,” says Mother still calm. “Then by all means, kill me.”
This seems to catch Father off guard.
“Then I must kill you,” he states.
Father raises a long shiny silver sword and is about to stab it into Mother’s heart when Sae jumps forward and kicks his chin. Sae nods to me and I jump to action. I remember the Kung Fu lessons that Mother taught us when we were three. I side kick Father in the leg and he falls to the ground. Then I slam my foot as hard as I can into his nose.
“Don’t hurt me!” Father screams. “If you kill me, the whole kingdom will riot!”
“And why is that?” asks Mother.
Father hesitates a little but, then says, “Because I am their rightful leader.”
“Their rightful leader, eh?” I wonder what Mother’s strategy is. None of us can argue that Father isn’t the rightful leader because he was born into the position.
Mother is screaming now. “You married into the throne. I WAS THE RIGHTFUL LEADER!”
I gasp again. Mother?! So Father was never the ruler of our land. He never had the right to send us to find the most valuable thing in the world. He is the cause of his favorite child’s death.
Mother speaks again, quieter this time. “The only reason you married me was so you could be royalty, and look what you’ve done to your kingdom. You’re not a leader. You’re a coward. And we have the power to kill you more than you have the power to kill me.”
I stand behind Mother on one side and Sae takes the other. The troops march to stand behind all of us.
I don’t want to see Father die. Then again I would much rather not see him live. So Sae pokes the pressure points that make him freeze up and we throw him into the lake.
“We did it,” says mother, breathless from the exciting events. The morning sunrise is a gorgeous orange color. We are united, a whole. We are fighters and Kung Fu artists and strategists. And we stand together in the sunlight watching the sun set over the lake.
EPILOGUE— 3 years later
The hot sun beats down on my neck while I unload a large box of purple paint.
“We didn’t order that much!” Sae complains.
It is three years since the death of our Father, and we have turned the castle into a sleepaway camp for village children. Each of the bedrooms serve as bunk cabins and the kids can play in the field and eat s’mores prepared by our kitchen staff. Sae and I are the head counselors. We decide what campers do during the day. Today, the main activity is painting a garden scene. However, we are afraid that we ordered too much paint.
“You’re right,” I said. “We only said one box of lime green.”
“We’ll manage,” says Sae.
We finish unloading the paint and carry it to the backyard. The village kids are already waiting to paint when Sae and I get out to the garden. I set up an easel for each of them while Sae passes out brushes and palettes.
While they paint, Sae and I talk.
“Do you ever miss Father?” Sae asks me.
“No,” I snap. Sae gives me a curious look.
“Fine,” I say finally. “I do. But only sometimes. Most of the time I am totally fine without him because he said that Serious was his favorite and he let Serenity die!”
It’s true. When Serenity got back to the castle with the help of one of my transportation coins, Father ignored her and focused on getting in contact with Serious. At least I still had Sae and Mother.
When everyone was finished painting we sent them to their cabins for Shower Hour. Then they would go to lunch in the palace dining room. During the afternoon, we take them to swim in Mother’s lake. Sae and I drove early to go to see Mother and set up for swimming. As we drive, Sae and I talk.
“I can’t wait to go swimming!” said Sae. I smiled.
“Yeah, me too.”